Archive for October, 2012

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true . . . if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Philippians 4:8 (NIV)

I grew up in an era when Norman Vincent Peale was something of a household name in North America. He was a well-known Manhattan pastor who popularized books on “Positive Thinking.” A somewhat controversial figure, he was admired by some and despised by others. I know my late father-in-law loved his books and always kept one on his coffee table.

I recall the comment made by one of our popular professors speaking in chapel during my early years in graduate school when he said, “The theology of Paul is appealing but the theology of Peale is appalling!”

At the time being a rather, I thought, optimistic person myself I wondered why anyone would be opposed to positive thinking?

My goal here is not condemn or condone Mr. Peale, nor any of his advocates or critics but to examine the reality that the way we think and process “truth” is of critical importance. This essay is the first in what I hope will be a series on the subject of positive thinking.

When the apostle Paul writes to the Philippians in the first century he has much to tell them about the positive nature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is what I consider to be the foundation of Positive Thinking. The reality is that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is in fact, the most positive message in the universe. The Gospel is all about a new relationship with God based on His work in man’s behalf – the restoration of a broken relationship at the Cross and a new resurrected life in the Spirit. What could be more positive than that?

However, just because we acknowledge truth doesn’t mean that we align with it. In order to have a positive outlook on life – which by the way I think is essential for one’s emotional and spiritual health – we must align with the truth.

I married my wife Joyce at the tender age of twenty-one years of age (for both of us) in the little town of Whitehall, Wisconsin in July 1975. We started off our married life with high hopes and a very old and somewhat unreliable car. To get to our wedding I had driven 1200 miles from Texas to Wisconsin. Before returning to Texas we were planning a honeymoon in Niagara Falls. A trip of over 800 miles all the way over in western, New York  – all by car!  Needless to say, our resources and our car were being tested from the outset of our married life.

A couple of days into our trip across the Midwest a couple of warning signs, or “truths” if you will came crashing down on my world of positive thinking. After all, I was a newly married man on his honeymoon!

First, I noticed that a new glitch arose with the car. A red light on the dashboard that I had never noticed before, started flashing on and then going off after a few seconds.  It seemed to be the brake light but I tended to ignore it because it never stayed on and the brakes didn’t “seem” to be faulty.

About the third day into our trip we woke up in Dearborn, Michigan with plans to travel on and arrive in Niagara Falls later in the afternoon. To our surprise the phone rang in the motel where we were staying and my mother was on the other end. She was calling from Texas to “inform” me that I had “possibly” been exposed to Hepatitis (don’t ask me how).

Our agenda then quickly shifted. The recommendation was that I should find a doctor ASAP and have him administer a gamma globulin injection as a precaution. I wasn’t too keen on the plan because I wasn’t convinced I was in any danger, I didn’t have time for this and unfortunately, I was well acquainted with the agony of these injections from my childhood bout with Rheumatic Fever.

That morning, without realizing it I was faced with several realities which couldn’t be handled with “positive thinking” alone. We wanted to reach our destination that day at Niagara Falls, but what we really needed was a mechanic and possibly a doctor as well.

We ended up finding a doctor to administer the shot then in haste headed off to our destination in a car with faulty brakes. It wasn’t until we crossed into Canada that we decided to switch drivers. Along a seemingly deserted road in south central Canada my lovely new bride slammed on the brakes for a light that turned red ahead of us. We rear-ended  the car in front of us because my priorities and my positive thinking didn’t allow for fixing a leaky brake line.

I suppose I have to keep learning what Henry Cloud explains so well in his books, that “The truth is always your friend.” We may not like some of the medical reports and warning lights in life, but most often they are there to alert us of dangers and pitfalls that will find us along life’s way.

My failure to align with the truth that my brakes were failing on my honeymoon was one of the harsh realities of my early married life. I now invest a lot more of my resources in car safety and I have no desire to put my family members at risk. The hepatitis scare was bogus but the red light and mushy brakes were revealing something that was true. It’s sometimes hard to read the signs. I guess that’s why they use red for the ones that are important.

I believe positive thinking is possible and even necessary. Perhaps the first step is to take a look at reality even though we may not like what we see. Seeing reality for what it is and taking appropriate action is to acknowledge that indeed truth is our friend. Maybe it’s that positive thinking should lead to appropriate action – even though it may not be very convenient.

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Advancement Through Adversity

And to the man he said, ‘Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains.’ Genesis 3:17-18 (NLT)

I think I have been viewing life a little differently since I revived my long lost exercise program.  It comes from working out a few times a week at my local gym the past two and a half years.

Now that I make this one of my regular places to meet people in our community I rub shoulders with folks who represent diverse steams of thought regarding health and fitness. There are, however, several things we all share in common. Everyone is there with a goal in mind, a strategy for reaching it and some sort of resistance they face in getting there.

Recently I began chatting with a woman I had been noticing on a regular basis. She caught my eye because her weight loss program was showing dramatic results and I wanted to complement her on her commitment to the process of change. I mean this girl would qualify as a top contender in any “biggest loser” contest. When she told me how much weight she had lost through diet and exercise I was completely blown away.  In my estimation she’s more of a success story than many of the super-fit gym enthusiasts who put the rest of us in our place.

It seems that everything worthwhile in life is accomplished by struggling against resistance. Whether it means dropping a few pounds, completing a course of study, raising children, changing careers or being a catalyst for change, genuine progress only comes through resistance or standing strong in the face of adversity.

I think this is due to the fact that we live in a world that was not designed to operate as it actually does. Life on this earth was designed to be lived in close connection with our Creator. But we live in a fallen world and until we are fully redeemed we won’t be having an easy time accomplishing anything of quality and substance. Just take a closer look at Genesis chapter three and you’ll see what I’m talking about. We live in a world cursed with weeds, thorns and all sorts of nasty obstacles.

This seems pretty obvious but for many years I think I was living in denial.  For much of my life I don’t think I had a very good attitude toward adversity. My family will tell you I that I don’t even have much patience with inconvenience!

Like most people, I have faced my share of suffering through the years.  Some of the most concentrated years of personal adversity came during 1989 to 1995. During those six years, between my wife and me all four of our parents died as well as one of my sisters.  Living overseas, we made seven emergency trips back to America during that time. In early 1990 I had a co-worker develop a serious mental illness and was instrumental in having him hospitalized. I then faced a similar situation in 1992 with a close family member.

I think after that season of suffering I became rather callous and unable to see that something positive could come out of those experiences. However, I’m beginning to develop a different attitude toward adversity. I’m realizing that adversity in its various forms can actually build our spiritual and emotional resources if we accept the inevitability of it and realize that there are supernatural provisions available to us in the process.

The New Testament writer James says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfectand complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4 (NIV)

I think James is saying that our acceptance of adversity with a joyful attitude will make a difference over the long haul.

After all these years I’m starting to appreciate that suffering will be part of the growth process of life. My attitude will make a significant difference in the development of my character. As I follow Jesus Christ, He wants to take me to the place where I’m complete and lacking in nothing. He knows the potential of the man I can be. I must realize I’m not that man – yet. I’m trying to accept that it does not look likely to happen without hardship.

I don’t know what struggles you are facing just now. I have many friends who are now enduring suffering that I feel is far worse than mine. I do know that it’s possible, with God’s help, to see suffering as a friend of maturity, rather than a dreaded enemy.

It is my hope and prayer that we can learn to draw on God’s resources in every season of life and even advance through adversity.

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Make the Process Your Priority

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers” Psalm 1:1-3 (NIV)

We’re seeing more warnings all the time. Our mobile phones are demanding our attention most of our waking hours. We’re quickly learning that they can be dangerous instruments when driving, walking, and performing many other everyday tasks.

It seems obvious to me from this new reality that we humans are not designed to focus for very long on more than one thing at a time. I have been reading reports on “multitasking.” The term describes computers – not humans.

It reflects on a life-lesson that I have found to be of critical importance.  A life of growth toward being a productive, intentional person only becomes a reality by focusing on the process rather than the results. It’s either one or the other. There’s a very subtle but significant difference between them. Results flow from a process. Regardless of the endeavor, we are much more effective as people when we focus on process and let the results flow from there.

As a student of the Bible I see it in Psalm 1. The Psalmist says that the person who desires a life of substance and prosperity focuses on a process. The process is simple, but profound – -spend less time with people who will drain your spiritual and emotional resources and all your waking hours meditating on God’s truth.  He outlines the process that will produce positive results. The person who focuses on the process will, in time, be like a tree “which yields its fruit in season.”  

It may not seem like much to you but this principle has made a radical difference in my own thinking, and behavior over the past several years. I think most of my life I was taught that “results” mattered more than the process by which they were attained. Maybe that’s just what I wanted to hear and filtered the messages. Or perhaps my own impatience for results in my life and work predisposed me toward that conclusion.

This principle is a constant in the world of sports. In almost any sport the participant or team who can focus on the process more than the result most often ends up on top.  In fact when a player gets consumed with the results more than the process that’s when they tend to freeze up and fall apart.

I saw it just this past weekend at the Ryder Cup in Medina, Illinois. The US team had a large lead after two days play and completely went into meltdown on Sunday, giving the tournament to the Europeans. Who was focusing on the process and who on the results? My take on it is that the Americans started looking too much at the fear of losing (results) and abandoned the process that was working for them the first two days. On the other hand, the Europeans stuck to a team game plan (process) and came out on top.

Some years ago I worked closely with some people who had struggles with depression and addiction. I found that they had some positive progress in recovery if they stuck diligently to a plan.  There were some who became more complacent with their new-found results and stopped following the plan that brought them there.  That marked the end of recovery and the beginning of a relapse. When the process was not in focus the results were sacrificed.

In almost everything we set out to do – diet, exercise, learning new skills, or developing a closer walk with God the process should be the focus. If the process is wholesome and healthy the results are most likely to be positive. Whatever goal you may be pursuing in life, make sure the process is your priority.  Who knows, it may just lead to true prosperity – for you and for those you love.

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